“Mommy, what is this?” A few days ago my five-year-old son was rifling through an old diaper bag that he pulled out of his sister’s closet. He noted the contents aloud, pulling out old baby socks, sunscreen, a few dollar bills, an umbrella (I knew I had one somewhere), and some miscellaneous granola bar wrappers and old tissues (I’m organized and tidy like that). Finally, he pulled out a wrapped tampon, looked at it quizzically, and approached me for an explanation. “Mommy, what is this thing?”
I took in a breath and gave myself a moment.
Then I told him: “That is called a tampon. Women use it when they have their period. A period is when a woman bleeds from her vagina.” He gave me a brief, satisfied look and continued playing with the items strewn across the hallway.
You see, we have been having brief conversations just like this one since my son was a toddler. I could have just as easily been explaining to him why water freezes when it drops to a certain temperature, or why dust accumulates on a surface that hasn’t been wiped recently.
My children look to me every day to explain the world to them – to frame it for them. They know that they should be quiet in the library, that it’s good to try new foods, that we treat other people with kindness, that God uniquely made each of them, and that they have penises and their sister has a vulva. They understand that they can touch their own penis, but they can’t touch anyone else’s penis or vulva. They understand who can touch their private spots and under what circumstances (mommy or daddy – to help wash them, or the pediatrician – if they give permission first and mommy and daddy are in the room). They would not understand these things intuitively, without guidance, explanation and direction.
You see, in our home we practice the everyday sex talk. This doesn’t mean that we talk about sex every day or that our small children understand intercourse in graphic detail. What it does mean is that no topic is off limits. If my children ask me a question about sex – or a question about anything, really – I will give them an honest answer.
We also teach our children about sex in age-appropriate ways. My boys (aged five and three) understand that babies are made when an egg inside of mommy’s body combines with a tiny piece of daddy’s body. They understand that babies arrive into this world via the vagina and that breasts are used to feed babies.
When it comes to my children and their multitudinous questions, I want to be the authority. I want them to know that no matter the topic, they can come ask mommy or daddy, and we will always tell them the truth. It does not mean that it is always simple, or that clear and direct explanations slide off my tongue with ease. Quite the opposite is often the case. And I’m certain that their questions, and in turn my explanations, will only grow more challenging as my children grow.
But these are not awkward, uncomfortable moments. They are part of the fabric of our family culture – part of the way we communicate. They are moments that make me pause, consider the world from my child’s perspective, crouch down, look into an inquisitive pair of hazel eyes, and communicate the truth.
When my son asked about the tampon, I could have pulled it from his hand and told him “it’s something for mommy” or “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” But I didn’t, and here is why:
1. I want my kids to feel comfortable asking me anything.
2. I want my kids to trust that I will tell them the truth.
3. I want to frame the topic of sex for my children, rather than allowing the world to pervert it.
4. I want to do my best to protect my children from sexual abuse.
An informed child is a deterrent to potential sexual offenders. This does not mean that discussing sex with my small children will somehow guarantee that they will never be victimized, but it’s an important step towards protecting them.
And look where I found that tampon today. He said he’s keeping it in a safe place for mommy, “in case of emergency.”